“Child care costs more than my house payment,” said Laura Gray of Wellington. “It’s hard but you do what you have to do. I know I’m doing the right thing.”
A grandparent raising two small children, Gray joined others dealing with similar situations May 4 in a new support group at the LCCC Wellington Center called All 4 Family. Attendees have taken on the duty of raising children a second time due to the biological parent’s addiction or mental illness.
The group, founded by Gloria Nestor of Wellington, aims to create a support system for extended family members who find themselves thrust into parental roles.
Members welcomed us to the meeting and warmly agreed to talk on the record about difficult family situations, saying it’s important to raise awareness of hardships that often carry a social stigma.
Nestor said her 24-year-old daughter is fighting on ongoing battle with mental illness. That’s left her in custody of her three-year-old granddaughter, Sophia.
“Taking on this new responsibility can be very stressful,” said Nestor. “But then you weigh the stress of that against the stress of knowing your grandchild is out there in the system. After considering that, it’s not a hard decision to make. The goal of this group is to let people know they’re not alone. Something like this has to be a group effort. I know there’s people out there with the same passion. We can do toy swaps and other things to help each other. We’re all on limited budgets.”
Ginny Crow of Amherst assists Nestor in organizing meetings and was the first person to reply online about creating a support group.
She is caring for a young niece and nephew while their mother is in a rehabilitation center for heroin addiction. Another niece with two children passed away from a heroin overdose on Jan. 29, 2015.
“I gave up a job making over $30,000 a year to take this on,” Crow said. “It would’ve cost me more to keep working and pay for daycare than to just quit. My nephew was two when I received custody of him and I’ve cared for my niece since she came home from the hospital. Before this happened, money for my husband and I was fine. Afterward, we were told his income was too high for any help we looked for. We couldn’t get anything for the kids without a fight.”
Relatives who care for displaced children, keeping them out of Ohio’s foster care system, save the state roughly $6 million each year, said Nestor.
“Grandparents these days are 42, not 60,” she said. “I’m not a victim. I don’t want anyone to say, ‘poor me.’ I’m not saying that. I chose to do this. But if I’m willing to take these children in because I love them and don’t want them to enter the system, please help me.”
Barb Gochnour of Amherst is raising a grandchild in the midst of her daughter’s mental illness and drug use.
“I tried to put resources in place so my daughter and the father could take care of the child four days a week,” she said. “I would’ve taken the child Friday after I leave work until Monday morning. It still wasn’t good enough. Children Services got involved so now I have the child. Nothing is set up for people like me, no child care, no diapers, nothing. Only by the grace of God and support of my church have I been able to get through.
“I just have the one child, and I asked myself what I did wrong as a parent,” she said. “I wondered that for 15 years. Until someone told me I had to salvage myself for my grandchild’s sake, I really beat myself up.”
Ann Wiegand, a friend from The Sanctuary in South Amherst, accompanied Gochnour to the meeting. She said the church lost a member to a heroin overdose in the past year.
“The family who lost their child is still in our congregation,” said Wiegand. “I wish that I had known about more resources and counseling for them because it was just a gut-wrenching time. That family went through so much trauma since that young man was about 14 years old. It literally tore their home apart physically and emotionally. They invested so much money and time in sending him places to get help only to have him return and fall back into the same situations. He went to prison twice. After getting out the last time, he overdosed within 24 hours.
“I came here tonight with my friend because I wanted to know of a place to tell people to go,” she said. “We’re a close congregation and situations like this hit all of us. We all think what else we could’ve done. I work in the Firelands school system and I constantly see the need for groups like this.”
Representatives from the Lorain County Office on Aging’s Kinship Care Program were also on hand. Established in 2001, it strives to assist relatives and other legal caregivers raising a young child.
Unlike Lorain County Job and Family Services, Kinship Care does not use income level as a basis for providing aid, according to Helene Stone, a social worker and “kinship navigator.”
“The income is disregarded,” she said. “You have to be blood related to the child or have guardianship or custody. The cut-off point for getting aid through Job and Family Services is 130 percent of the poverty level, which is low. It used to be 200 percent. Job and Family Services is all about what you make when you enter the program. If you qualify, you receive about $282 per month for one child and $100 for each additional child.”
All 4 Family meets at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month but is looking to expand its schedule and locations.
Nestor has secured a spot for the group at this summer’s Lorain County Fair in hopes of finding more people who need assistance financially and emotionally. To learn more, send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.